How Qatar bought Britain: They own the Shard. They own the Olympic Village...
Creeping steadily above the London skyline, the Shard will be Europe’s tallest building when it is finally finished in a few weeks’ time: an extraordinary monument to glass, steel and sheer ambition.
And an appropriate symbol for the rise of its Qatari owners and their ever-growing influence here in Britain.
From the ruins of the financial crisis, this tiny Gulf state has snapped up a range of famous British assets, and if you were to take a look from the upper storeys of the Shard, quite a few would be in view.
To the east, Qatar owns swathes of the Canary Wharf financial district through its majority holding in Songbird Estates plc.
When Barclays was in trouble at the height of the banking turmoil, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) emerged as a white-knight investor, and became the biggest shareholder.
Over at Stratford stand the buildings of the Olympic Village – once the Games are finished this summer, QIA will take ownership.
Due west lie Harrods and, close by, No 1 Hyde Park, the world’s most expensive block of flats, also Qatari-owned.
A sovereign wealth fund with tens of billions of pounds in assets and a global reach, QIA has already invested L10?billion in Britain, with more planned. Its influence is everywhere.
If you walk into any Sainsbury’s across the UK, remember that Qatar is a major investor.
It owns 20 per cent of the London Stock Exchange and, at the other end of the scale, it owns 20 per cent of Camden market, the biggest grunge emporium in the country.
Qatar is smaller than Belgium yet seems to be laying claim to the future of our capital.
Its real influence, however, which could yet shape the lives of millions of ordinary Britons, is invisible and still growing.
From a standing start, in the last two years Qatar has become Britain’s biggest supplier of imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Last year Qatari LNG accounted for 85 per cent of Britain’s liquefied natural gas imports, providing power to homes across the land.
But that figure is rising, and by the final quarter of 2011, Qatari supplies had jumped to 95.5 per cent of our total LNG imports.
For some, at least, our dependence on Qatar for a major part of our power has become a significant cause for concern. (LNG already accounts for one quarter of the UK gas supply.)
As one union leader put it: ‘They have vast sums to spend, they invest in our strategic industries and that in turn allows them to influence the type of society we are.’
Certainly, as North Sea oil reserves diminish, this tiny Gulf state has become pivotal to Britain’s future energy security and our prosperity.
It is little wonder that both David Cameron and his predecessor as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, have been assiduous in courting the Qatari leader, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and his glamorous wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al-Missned.